Grapevine: Remembering Fink’s Bar

A roundup of culture across Israel.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN greets Congressman Matthew Gaetz II. (photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN greets Congressman Matthew Gaetz II.
(photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
Most of the people at the press conference held at the Tower of David Museum two hours before the official opening last Thursday of its “London in Jerusalem| exhibition, were journalists who were past and present members of the editorial staff of The Jerusalem Post. This was fitting for the occasion, given that the exhibition deals with the period of the British Mandate and The Jerusalem Post, originally the Palestine Post, was founded in 1932 when the British Mandate was still very much in effect.
Part of the attraction of the exhibition was the reconstruction of the famous Fink’s Bar, a favorite watering hole for journalists, British army officers politicians, diplomats, the elite of the city, their guests, and dare we say it – spies. On hand at the press conference were the last people to own Fink’s, Edna and Mouli Azrieli. Edna, the daughter of the legendary Dave Rothschild, who in 1945 had acquired the famous bar from its original owner Moshe Fink, had also worked for several years at the Jerusalem Post, so the press conference was in a sense, also a reunion.
The goulash soup for which Fink’s was famous, was actually introduced by the original owner, who had come to Jerusalem from Hungary, and it remained a staple on the menu, which was also known for its other delicacies. Fink’s, like the Post, was opened in 1932. Among the frequent guests before any of them became prime minister were Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Located at the King George-Histadrut (formerly HaPoalim) intersection, Fink’s remained open for many years after the Mandate had ended. A bar/ restaurant that put Jerusalem on the map in a non-religious sense, Fink’s was written up in several international publications. Newsweek Magazine referred to it as “one of the best bars in the world” and it was listed among the leading bars by Time Magazine and Reader’s Digest.
Of the many international celebrities who visited Fink’s, Edna Azrieli’s favorite was Paul Newman, which again fits in with the theme of the exhibition. Newman was the star of Exodus, which, though released in 1960, dealt with the twilight period of the Mandate and the birth of the State of Israel.
Many secret diplomatic and political meetings were held at Fink’s, with participants often using Rothschild and later Mouli Azrieli as sounding boards, consultants and even as psychiatrists. The two maintained absolute discretion, never betraying a secret, or any other information for that matter.
Both Edna and Mouli Azrieli like to tell the story of Ari Rath, a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, who was a frequent patron at Fink’s. On one occasion when Rath had made an appointment to meet his brother there, he asked Rothschild whether his brother had already arrived. “I don’t know,” was the reply, “and even if I did know, I wouldn’t tell you.”
An even more frequent visitor to Fink’s bar was mayor Teddy Kollek, who in that capacity and in his previous capacity as director of the Prime Minister’s Office brought every visiting dignitary and celebrity to Fink’s.
A short list of visiting such internationally known personalities includes Marc Chagall, Leonard Bernstein, Isaac Stern, Kirk Douglas, Michael Douglas, Arthur Rubinstein, Gunther Grass, Romy Schneider, Vittorio De Sica, Danny Kaye, John Steinbeck, Martha Graham, Claude Lanzmann, Harold Pinter, Zubin Mehta, Simone de Beauvoir, Shirley MacLaine and many more who left their signatures in Fink’s guest book.
Edna Azarieli tells the story that Kollek once came with a member of the Rothschild family whose members, particularly the British branch, have been extremely generous in their support of national institutions in Jerusalem. The Rothschild in question heard Edna’s father being referred to by name and wondered why the place was called Fink’s if the owner was called Rothschild. Kollek, with his blunt sense of humor, said, “He’s ashamed of the name.”
Fink’s closed in 2005 after 73 years as a Jerusalem landmark, and the site today is occupied by a branch of the Ne’eman bake shops.
Strangely enough Fink’s demise was in part due to the fact that after years as a non-kosher establishment, it had decided like so many other non-kosher enterprises in the capital, to become kosher. The general swing toward kashrut was prompted by the Second Intifada. There was a drastic decline in tourism and among those people who didn’t cancel their travel plans, the bulk were mainly Orthodox people who had children studying in religious institutions in Israel. In order to attract this new potential clientele, many bars and restaurants became kosher, and in the process, somehow lost their ambience.
Fink’s also lost some of its charm, and when Mouli Azrieli fell ill, his sons Eran and Amir were disinclined to become part of a bar-restaurant dynasty
The Azrielis packed up the Fink’s memorabilia, including works by artists Yossi Stern, Yosl Bergner and others who paid for their supper with their talents. Also included among the mementos were the labels that had once graced bottles of alcohol on the bar. Dave Rothschild had been a great collector of labels, and his daughter had not thrown them away, much to the delight of Liat Margalit, who with Inbar Dror-Lax co-curated the London in Jerusalem exhibition. Margalit spent a whole year looking for and at items that might be suitable for inclusion. She remembered Fink’s from her youth and was exhilarated when visiting the Azrielis at their home in Mevasseret, to see what they had preserved.
But she and museum director Eilat Liber, as well as Caroline Shapiro, who is responsible for public relations, went to great pains to explain that the exhibition was not a tribute to the British Mandate, but to the culture, leisure time pursuits and commerce which it had triggered among the diverse populations of Jerusalem. In other words, there’s something for everyone. The exhibition itself and the impressive catalogue, show that co-existence was much more in vogue during the Mandate period than it is now, with both the Tower of David and the YMCA serving as key focal points for concerts, sporting activities, exhibitions, et al.
Even today, the British influence cannot be ignored. The museum was restored and developed by Dame Vivien Duffield and the Clore Israel Foundation through the Jerusalem Foundation, and the catalogue was also made possible by Dame Vivien and the Clore Foundation, which is part of an ongoing British contribution to Jerusalem.
NEWLY ARRIVED Russian Ambassador Anatoly Victorov has not wasted any time in getting to know his colleagues. Victorov, who arrived in Israel almost immediately after the departure of his predecessor Alexander Shein, whose term expired last month, last week attended the Argentine National Day reception hosted by Ambassador Mariano A. Caucino and his wife Barbara Urdampilleta at their residence in Herzliya Pituah.
Prior to his posting to Israel, Victorov was the director of the Department for Humanitarian Cooperation and Human Rights of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation as well as its commissioner for Human Rights, Democracy and Rule of Law.
Representing the Israel Government at the Argentinean National Day reception was Minister of Science, Technology and Space Ofir Akunis. Among the other guests were Yesh Atid MK Haim Jelin, who was born in Buenos Aires and migrated from Argentina in 1976, former Israel ambassador to the United States and former president of Tel Aviv University, Prof. Itamar Rabinovich; producer Yair Dori, who like Jelin is also originally from Argentina and numerous ambassadors, most of whom live within easy walking distance of the Argentinean residence.
Caucino enthused that relations between Argentina and Israel are “at their best moment in decades.” He was also appreciative of the fact that Argentina was one of the three countries visited by Netanyahu during his first prime ministerial trip to Latin America last year. Caucino also had warm words of praise for Israel’s ambassador in Buenos Aires, Ilan Stulzman and his staff, with whom “we are developing a common agenda of cooperation in many fields.”
Caucino paid tribute to the memories of victims of terrorist attacks in Buenos Aires, saying, “We will never forget the killing of more than one hundred innocent people in the two attacks combined. We Argentines have learned that terrorism is not an exotic piece of news from far away countries but an actual reality in our home,” he continued.
“We learned terrible lessons in 1992 and 1994 when the Embassy of Israel and the AMIA building were blown up by the hand of extremism, bigotry and fanaticism.” Caucino also expressed his “profound admiration for the outstanding achievements of Israel and its great people” crediting Israel with being “an example of tireless struggle, a beacon of liberty and a magnet for those who defend human dignity.” Akunis recalled his visit to Buenos Aires where he and his delegation had very important and fruitful meetings with relevant Argentine authorities with the aim of further enhancing cooperation in the field of science.
Apropos Argentina, when ticket sales opened at 9 p.m. on Sunday for the friendly soccer game between Israel and Argentina that is scheduled to be held at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on June 9, there was literally an Internet stampede, and all the tickets were sold within 25 minutes. Many fans were disappointed because they were unable to gain access to the sales site. Most of the tickets sold ranged in price from NIS 44 to NIS 160, but there were also VIP tickets, including the cost of parking the car, that sold for NIS 830. The seating capacity at Teddy Stadium is 31,733.
FRIENDS OF Jerusalem-based artist Avi Lehrer are thrilled for him, because one of his paintings has been selected for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in London June 12 to August 19. Lehrer himself is overjoyed to have one of his works hanging on a wall previously adorned by Turner, Constable and their like. Israeli visitors to London during the period of the exhibition who might be interested in seeing Lehrer’s painting should look for a work titled In the Pub.
Aside from this personal triumph, Lehrer had another piece of good luck for an artist last year after celebrating a milestone birthday. His children wanted to give him a meaningful gift, so they sent him off to Florence, an artists’ paradise, where he could hob-nob with other artists and paint to his heart’s content. Lehrer paints mainly in oils on canvas, and his themes, which reflect his philosophy that life should be full of joy, include landscapes, still lives, portraits and nudes.
MOST MEDIA reports related to the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community of Beit Shemesh focus on the extreme anti-Zionist elements that are trying to turn the city into a theocracy, and who are making life intolerable for secular residents and even for modern Orthodox residents. This paints an unfair picture, because there are haredi factions in Beit Shemesh that represent all that is good and gracious in Judaism. In the forefront of such haredim are members of the Kosov-Vizhnitz community, headed by Rabbi Naftali Reuven Kornreich.
What is not often reported about Beit Shemesh is the fact that part of its population is economically underprivileged and cannot afford to support even a simple, makeshift synagogue. Kornreich and his followers decided that the poor also deserve a boost to their morale and should have an elegant synagogue to call their own. Thus began a crowd-funding project under the title of Project 542, with each of the digits representing a Jewish value or blessing. The “five” stands for the five Books of Moses, the “four” for success in endeavors in all four seasons and the “two” for the connection that the project seeks to establish between the communities of Israel and the lovers of Israel in the Diaspora.
Construction is already underway and was made possible by numerous relatively small donations in which donors purchased one or more bricks in the building or a plaque in an artistic memorial tree on which donors can inscribe names of departed loved ones, whose memories will be linked in perpetuity with Israel and with Judaism. The memorial tree, fashioned from copper and wood, is located near the ark. It is three meters high and its width spans across six meters. The plaques are referred to as ‘fruits.’ The tree contains 4,870 ‘fruits,’ of which close to 2,500 have already been acquired by Jews from around the world who have responded to an English-language video made by Kornreich in which he explains the nature of the project, and emphasizes that his community loves all Jews regardless of their affiliations.
Kornreich gives a personal blessing to everyone who purchases a ‘fruit’ on the tree. Each ‘fruit’ is priced at $1,199 and for an additional $300 donors can also be inscribed in the Memorial Book, which will serve as a record of unity, love and support. Kornreich is hopeful that the synagogue will be completed by Hanukka, and if not, then, by Tu Bishvat.
The memorial tree, he says, gives real value to all connected with it and symbolizes a partnership in the mitzva of founding a synagogue in the land of Israel, establishing a community center for the underprivileged and preserving the names of loved ones forever.
The architect of the three-story structure, Israel Mozes, has included classrooms, a large institutional kitchen, a dining room, guest rooms, and even a banquet hall that will be rented out at a nominal fee to people of meager financial resources so that they can celebrate their life cycle events in a stylish environment. The progress of construction is being regularly photographed and posted on the Internet, so that those who have contributed can see what their money is helping to build.
ISRAELIS ARE getting excited over the planned visit next month by Prince William, the first British royal to officially come to Israel, but Liora Goldberg Stern, the veteran society columnist for Maariv, a sister publication of The Jerusalem Post, hinted in her column last Friday that there’s a possibility that Prince Harry and his wife Meghan may also come before the summer is over – albeit not in an official capacity. It seems that one of Prince Harry’s army instructors, who for the moment remains nameless, was invited to the royal wedding, and will be getting married himself toward the end of summer An invitation will obviously be sent to the royal couple, and because Harry is inclined to defy protocol and tradition, they may just decide to accept.
WHILE POLAND is one of the best sources for Jewish genealogy researchers, it’s somewhat strange that given the anti-Jewish sentiment that is currently so pervasive there that any Diaspora- or Israel-headquartered Jewish organization would want to hold a conference there. Be that as it may, the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies is holding the 38th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Warsaw on August 5 to 10 at the Convention Center of the Warsaw Hilton. This will be the first IAJGS conference to be held in central or eastern Europe. Presenters from at least 24 countries on five continents will be among the speakers, with English as the official language.
The program already includes more than 150 lectures and panel discussions, but the big bonus for participants of Polish ancestry is that they can visit the places where their families lived, says IAJGS President Ken Bravo from Cleveland Ohio. If they can bring themselves to do so, participants can also see the Nazi death camps in which relatives were murdered.
While there will be special emphasis at this conference on Jews from central and eastern Europe, there will be sessions of interest to Jews from other parts of the world. Facilities will include a Resource Room with genealogy experts, mentors, archivists, local NGOs and craftspeople for a one-stop research experience at the conference site, plus opportunities for one-on-one conversations with archivists from Europe including Poland and Lithuania. The conference which is being co-hosted by the POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews and the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw will also include tours focusing on the rich histor4y of Polish Jewry.
The Conference has been planned in close cooperation with the Polish State Archives, whose resources include records from the current and former Polish territories. Their holdings include vital information for towns now in Poland, Germany, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine – including the former empires of Prussia, Russia and Austro-Hungary.
More than 450 people have already registered for the conference, says its Public Relations Chair Sandra Golden, who has indicated that anyone else who is interested can visit the conference website at: for additional information and registration. Newcomers who have not participated in previous IAJGS conferences are welcome.
IAJGS is an umbrella organization of more than 75 Jewish genealogical organizations worldwide .
HAS ANYONE noticed that US President Donald Trump’s slogan has changed from “Let’s make America great again” to “Let’s see what happens?” Isn’t that the business way of negotiating? You make an agreement, but then don’t sign on the dotted line and withdraw. The other party, if sufficiently interested in the deal, offers a higher price if he or she is the buyer, and is willing to take a lower price if he or she is the seller. Meanwhile everyone waits to see what happens. It could well be that Trump’s strategy for North Korea is a dress rehearsal for what he plans to do in the Middle East.
BECAUSE THE national days of some countries happen to coincide with the Sabbath or Jewish festivals, ambassadors have had to be flexible in planning receptions to mark those events. This year happens to be significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that on November 11, all the countries involved in the First World War, will mark a century since what was idealistically referred to as “the war to end all wars.” The expression was originally used in a slightly different form by H.G. Wells in 1914, and was later used in the above-mentioned form by US president Woodrow Wilson, after which it became a catchphrase.
Slovenia’s ambassador, Barbara Susnik, is getting in early on both counts. Her country’s Independence Day is on June 25, but she is hosting the reception next week at Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People. Last year she chose to have the reception at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. The reason that she has chosen the museum is because it will coincide with the opening of the Museum’s exhibition dedicated to Jewish soldiers who fought in the Austro-Hungarian Army on the Isonzo Front during the First World War.
Many of the guests invited to the Slovenian reception have also been invited to the Philippines reception being hosted on the same date by Ambassador Nathaniel Imperial to mark the 120th anniversary of his country’s independence. The occasion is also known as Freedom Day, because it marks the June 12, 1898 anniversary on which the Philippines were freed from Spanish rule.
Russian Independence Day is also on June 12. In the past, ambassadors of the Philippines frequently moved the date of their receptions by a day or two so as not to compete with the Russians who always have a mega-event. This year, the Russian ambassador has also moved the date, albeit by only two days, and Italian Ambassador Gianluigi Benedetti and his wife Sabina, who are hosting their country’s national day reception this evening, are a few days ahead of time. Benedetti, who is hosting his first Republic Day reception in Israel, will have a tough time with his speech, given that prime ministerial candidate Giuseppe Conte, who had been tasked by President Sergio Masterella to form a government, failed to do so, and in the interim, Masterella has asked former director of the International Monetary Fund Carlo Cottarelli to head a transitional government.
ALTHOUGH NO Democrat was invited to the inauguration of the US Embassy in Jerusalem two weeks ago, there were Democrats in the capital this week as part of a bi-partisan congressional delegation led by Darrell Issa (R), Matthew Gaetz II (R), and Stephen Lynch (D). Inter alia, the delegation met with President Reuven Rivlin, who earlier on the same day had welcomed hundreds of volunteers who are serving in units of Israel’s Civilian National Service. Master of Ceremonies at the morning event was linguist Avshalom Kor, who has appeared in numerous radio and television programs dealing with Hebrew grammar and semantics. Rivlin said that he had made countless speeches during his period as president, but had never been so nervous as in the presence of Kor for fear that a slip of the tongue would cause him to mispronounce something or make a grammatical mistake.
THE STAFF at the Ziv Medical Center in Safed, particularly those in the Orthopedics Department, are kvelling over the fact that Professor Alexander Lerner, the head of the department, was invited to lecture at the NATO Center for Excellence in Military Medicine in Budapest, Hungary. Lerner is a world-renowned expert in the treatment of complex orthopedic injuries sustained on the battlefield. His address to NATO army physicians focused on innovations in treating such injuries in order to facilitate faster healing or to give hope for recovery in what may initially appear to be hopeless cases. The NATO medical teams were impressed by the high level of orthopedic treatment in Israel.
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